AOPA Expo Archive

Sikorsky X2 coming to Oshkosh, AOPA Summit

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Soon you will read in AOPA Pilot about the Sikorsky X2 twin-rotor helicopter that was flown in excess of 250 knots true airspeed in level flight, and 263 in a one-degree descent last year. I was lucky enough to be present at the helicopter’s last flight July 14 (reaching 240 knots) northwest of West Palm Beach, Fla. It will be on display near ConocoPhillips Square (formerly AeroShell Square) at EAA AirVenture in a few days, and then on display again at AOPA Summit. What you won’t see are the software displays–the stuff that makes the magic happen. After 18 months of victory tours in its special truck, the history-making helicopter is on its way to the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport, Virginia. AOPA Pilot has covered the X2 since it was a mere 181-knot helicopter. It first flew in 2008. With seven more flights, the X2 might have gone 280 knots true airspeed, say those close to the project, but it’s time to put the technology to use in a military Raider attack helicopter. Also on display at Oshkosh, like last year, is Sikorsky’s battery powered helicopter, Firefly, which hasn’t flown yet. With an expected endurance of 12 minutes, it must wait for better battery technology to be practical. It should fly in August. When I saw it there was no rotor, no center console for instruments, and no batteries. (It had all those parts on for Oshkosh 2010.) I saw work on a proprietary Firefly gear of some sort in progress, even as the X2 was prepped for its last flight.

By the way, I want to mention that the X2 team benefitted greatly from the Sikorsky counter-rotating XH-59A of the late 1970s and `80s, that went 245 knots true airspeed. The X2 team simply built its “house” on the XH-59A foundation, and some of the engineers who achieved the 245-knot speed, but with severe stability problems, are still at Sikorsky today to enjoy the moment. All told, there were 70 employees involved with the X2 from time to time, but no more than 30 at one time. There were 12 key players working 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., unless they came in at 4 or 4:30 a.m. Hats off to the two XH-59A pilots who sat there, fought the stability issues second to second, and went 245 knots in spite of them. It took two pilots because there were nine levers to control.

It’s not just us in GA

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Coming home from AOPA Expo the other day, aboard a Delta Air Lines Boeing 737, we took off from San Jose’s Runway 30 Right and began a climbing right turn toward Atlanta. We kept climbing–and turning, and turning, and turning.

As we headed west toward the Pacific, I wondered if we were returning to the airport, but we were still climbing. Finally, we stopped turning and headed in a southeasterly direction.

Disembarking in Atlanta, I asked the captain what was up with that departure. He told me the spiraling climb was normal for San Jose, necessary to avoid the San Francisco and Oakland airspace to the north.

It reminded me that those kinds of things don’t always happen just to those of us flying small aircraft. Departing IFR to the west from my home airport, Frederick Municipal, usually requires flying to the northeast for radar identification–and then a climbing right turn until the DG finally points to the “W.” Does anything like that happen to you?

Roadable airplane, part deux

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Given the amount of comments to my blog posting on the Terrafugia Transition roadable airplane a few weeks ago, pilots don’t lack for opinions about the project.

I met with Terrafugia CEO/CTO Carl Dietrich at AOPA Expo to learn more about the project. See the story on AOPA Online. Addressing a common thread among the 77 comments to the previous blog posting, Dietrich asserts that the Transition is not meant to be a replacement for a car, but is instead an airplane that can be used on the road. It is a vehicle meant for pilots and not something designed to allow every Pontiac driver to take to the air. It will have a steering wheel for ground operations and a stick for controlling the vehicle in flight.

Dietrich, obviously passionate about the project that he started with three partners, believes the airplane will fly in a few weeks, possibly in early December.

What’s the economic reality in the aircaft market?

Friday, November 7th, 2008

While it seems like bad news this week for GA manufacturers, I wonder if it really is. Within the last month Cirrus, Mooney, Cessna, and Hawker Beechcraft all announced layoffs and/or cutbacks in work weeks in order to reduce production to meet reduced demand. Only Piper seems to be bucking the trend so far. A Piper spokesman told me at Expo that it plans to deliver 44 airplanes in the next five manufacturing weeks before the end of the year–so no expected layoffs on the production line there by year-end. But production of some components for aircraft in 2009 may be scaled back in case demand at Piper softens. Piper reports only one customer who has not been able to get credit to complete a planned retail delivery.

What’s not clear is whether demand for piston airplanes is significantly down or whether manufacturers are playing it conservatively, reducing production in anticipation of reduced demand. It could be that the manufacturers have learned a thing or two from previous economic slow downs when they didn’t reduce production rates quickly enough and found themselves awash in high-priced inventory.

In looking at the economic situation I wonder how many pilots not making planned aircraft purchases are doing so because they truly can no longer afford or qualify for the purchase or whether it is simply them being conservative–putting off the purchase until the future becomes more clear.

Complicating the situation is the bonus depreciation credit for aircraft purchases made before year-end. The credit expires at the end of the year. Now, industry officials are debating whether lobbying for an extension of the tax credit as part of a 2009 stimulus package might cause those planning to purchase this year to get the credit to instead wait until later to purchase if the credit is still available next year. They’d like the orders this year and to also have the credit for next year. If push comes to shove, they’d probably rather have the stimulus package for next year even if it means some delayed sales for now.

What do you think? Has the economic situation caused you to cancel an aircraft order or has anyone you know canceled an order? What will be the impact of the economy on aircraft sales?

Flight of a lifetime

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I flew in a Zeppelin! While Tom Haines will tell you the whole story of Airship Ventures in an online story and through video shot from the cockpit of the first American Zeppelin to fly commercial passengers in 70 years, I want to share the nonpilot version of the story. Yes, even after 10 years as an editor on AOPA Pilot staff, I still have 65 hours of flight training but no solo. I have gotten to do some amazing things in the years that I have been on staff. Oh, fly in a seaplane to Friday Harbor, Washington, fly with Haines in his Bonanza to see my son in Florida, and fly to Cape Cod, Oshkosh, and Sun ‘n Fun–the perfect illustration of how great and useful general aviation flying is. But this experience today, well, it may top them all.

I joined Haines and photographer Chris Rose on their way to do the story on Airship Ventures yet when we arrived, I was asked if I’d like to fly too. I panicked. But Haines looked at me and said, “Julie, this is a flight of a lifetime.” So I listened to the safety instructions, followed as we went two-by-two to the airship (man, is it big…gianormous!), and buckled in. Haines warned that the takeoff might be steep as in a blimp, which he has flown, but the Zeppelin felt like it simply floated off the ground. The windows are so large you have the sensation of being in a giant bubble. That was unnerving to me as I like a wall space or some aluminum between me and the sky, but the view just sucked me in…we flew along Highway 101 up to San Francisco, around the bay, and over the Golden Gate Bridge. We could unbuckle and walk around the cabin but it took me until the North Beach of San Francisco before I got up. All the time Chris Rose had the windows open (yes, open) taking photographs.

The Zeppelin cruises at 35 mph just 1,200 feet agl. With the windows open, you could hear the sound of sirens from the highway below. It was a two-hour tour and over way too soon. See Tom’s video and look at Chris’ photos. I think you’ll agree this was a flight of a lifetime.

A beautiful sunset

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

After 2,000 miles with the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer, the Pacific Ocean finally came into view. Unfortunately it was 20 miles to the west, and would be the closest we would get.

A California sunset

But let’s back up a bit. We left Falcon Field in Phoenix late morning and headed for General Fox in California for fuel. Big headwinds kept us a little short, so we decided to divert to Van Nuys instead. What better place to make a last fuel stop than one of the busiest GA airports in the country with tons of heritage? But trying to beat weather into San Jose meant a quick turn and sightseeing limited to what could be seen from the taxiway.

Leaving Van Nuys we flew west toward San Marcus. At 10,000 feet, we were welcomed to the biggest headwinds of the trip, around 40 knots. The turn north for San Jose was where the fun started. After the beautiful sunset, we finally got lower to try to escape the winds and get to some warmer air. Nothing is free though. The lower altitude put us in IMC. As we flew toward San Jose, the rain intensified. Salinas was shrouded with extreme precipitation, none of which was showing up on datalink (definitely a lesson there). Close to San Jose, the rain was heavy, the wind shifted, and we were put in a homemade hold to wait for airline traffic on the ILS. What a better way to end a long trip than night IMC and an approach?

Landing in San Jose was bittersweet. We had made it, and looking back, it was fairly easy. Thanks to advanced avionics, trips like these are stress-free and much less taxing than they used to be. Imagine an Archer as a cross-country luxury ride. The Get Your Glass Archer makes it possible.

The Colorado River alters the desert landscape.

The Colorado River changes the desert landscape.

The Banning Pass near Palm Springs.

The Banning Pass near Palm Springs.

Miles upon miles of windmills.

Follow along with us at AOPA Expo

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Whether or not you’re coming to AOPA Expo this year, you’ll be able to stay up-to-date with everything that happens through the AOPA website. In addition to the Expo sidebar on the homepage, AOPA editors will be posting daily blogs here about the latest events.

Also, if you’re on Twitter, you can follow us as we wander the exhibit hall floor and talk to other attendees. We’ll be tagging our messages with the keyword “#aopaexpo08″ to make it easy to track what everyone is doing–just go to our Expo Twitter account and see everyone’s updates.

If you’re going to be at Expo, feel free to follow us on your cell phone via Twitter and even tweet in with your own thoughts on #aopaexpo08!

Wide open spaces

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Boy, when they say the Western U.S. is full of wide open spaces, they aren’t kidding. The sweepstakes flight today was from Altus, Oklahoma, to Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. The scenery was incredible. Between the red rocks, mountains, spectacular cliffs and mesas, New Mexico and Arizona clearly have something special. Aside from getting knocked around by turbulence all day, it was a great seven hours of flying.

Tomorrow it’s on to San Jose. I’m hoping seeing the Pacific will be the end to a great trip.

Massive areas of cattle in Texas with nothing else around for miles.

The beautiful vista of New Mexico.

West Texas.

Just a little short

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Murphy’s Law set in early. We left Frederick an hour late for the trip west in the sweepstakes Archer. Headwinds beat us down even more. But, after 11ish hours of flying, we were rewarded with a great stop–Altus, Oklahoma.

The day took us through Clark County, Indiana, Springfield, Missouri, and finally into Altus. Altus is a town that used to be built around the active Air Force base. But it’s closure means things aren’t what they used to be. At least that’s what the lineman told me. But service and a smile still reign here. Let’s see, gas was $3.60 full service, a linewoman cleaned my windscreen unprompted, and they gave us a ride to the hotel about a mile away. I’ll be back here someday.

But as great as Altus is, it’s not as far as we had wanted to make it. Lubbock, Texas was the original goal. In hindsight I’m glad we didn’t make it though. Texas Tech v. Texas in Lubbock last night probably meant hotel rooms were slim.

This morning we’ll be leaving early to try and make the Phoenix area by early afternoon. There I have an interview with an interesting guy you’ll read about shortly in the magazine. Afterward, who knows? All I know is it’s West.

Let the journey begin!

Friday, October 31st, 2008

I’m a very lucky man. With Expo in San Jose this year, the 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Archer has to get from AOPA’s Frederick, Maryland, headquarters to the west coast. I get the privilege of making the journey.

The route will take me through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally California. With the advances in technology, you’ll be able to follow along like never before. I’ll be blogging on these pages over the next three days, and also giving immediate updates via Twitter.

Follow me at Twitter (ijtwombly) to see where the stops will be. It’s a good way to catch the sweepstakes airplane and get an up-close and personal tour. Happy trails.